Russian Sitka

In Sitka Ruth & I took a tour of the Russian Bishop’s House. It was not too far from the Cathedral pictured above and it’s both Alaskan and Russian in design and appearance. Some call Ivan Veniaminov, the priest for whom this structure was built, one of the most famous and influential man of the 19th century, at least in this part of the world.

The story of Veniaminov began in Irkutsk, Russia. He became a priest there, but his wife died in 1840 and he decided the next year to assume leadership of a new diocese that included both Alaska and that part of Russia known as Kamchatka. This vast new diocese lacked a residence, so he had the Bishop’s House built. As a high dignitary in the Russian Orthodox faith, he took the name Innocent and moved to Sitka. Sitka had become the capital of Russian America in 1804. He lived well in this 2 story log structure that eventually became one of the few surviving examples of Russian architecture in North America.

The Russians were in power in Alaska for 125 years. Innocent’s residence was completed in 1842 and became the center of the Russian Orthodox faith in Alaska. Ivan Veniaminov became the first Orthodox bishop to reside in Alaska.

The natives of Southeast Alaska included the Tlingit and Haida people among others. They all lived in the ecosystem of the Inside Passage known as a temperate rainforest. Its rivers were full of salmon and its forests were full of animals that were valued for their fur. Wealthy Russian investors sent traders to collect sea otters, fox, and fur seal pelts. The native people were in the middle of all this fur trading. The vast area where they thrived became known as the Tongass National Forest. This encompassed 16.8 million acres of Southeast Alaska, the largest national forest in the US, but their influence and trading area extended as far south as California.

Ivan Veniaminov claims he was devoted to the native peoples and he taught them building skills and provided other useful occupational assistance. Although the fur trade dwindled, the Russian Orthodox Church continued to thrive and Ivan became known as both Bishop Innocent and the Metropolitan of Moscow. His house in Sitka had a public reception area on the 2nd floor where his private quarters were and a chapel. These were all upstairs. Below were church offices, a school for native children, and a seminary. All of this is seen on a tour of the BIshop’s House, which is like a museum of Russian Orthodox practices.

Although the best of architecture had been used, the Russian Bishop’s House became a mess. It contained rotten wood, a leaky roof, and it eventually needed extensive repairs. The National Park Service entered in 1973 and a 16 year restoration began. Summer tours of the entire house are now being offered and by pre-arrangement in the winter.

Ivan went back to Russia and was eventually canonized a saint. This occurred on 10/6/77 in Moscow. He died a bishop and was buried in Russia. This building is now considered a prime example of Russian wooden architecture. Inside you see the usual icons, samovars, and many imported Russian items that make this house unique. The National Park Service ensures continued care.


About roads-rus

Since the beginning, I've had to avoid writing about the downside of travel in order to sell more than 100 articles. Just because something negative happened doesn't mean your trip was ruined. But tell that to publishers who are into 5-star cruise and tropical beach fantasies. I want to tell what happened on my way to the beach, and it may not have been all that pleasant. My number one rule of the road's disaster is tomorrow's great story. My travel experiences have appeared in about twenty magazines and newspapers. I've been in all 50 states more than once and more than 50 countries. Ruth and I love to travel internationally--Japan, Canada, China, Argentina, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, etc. Within the next 2 years we will have visited all of the European countries. But our favorite destination is Australia. Ruth and I have been there 9 times. I've written a book about Australia's Outback, ALONE NEAR ALICE, which is available through both Amazon & Barnes & Noble. My first fictional work, MOVING FORWARD, GETTING NOWHERE, has recently been posted on Amazon. It's a contemporary, hopefully funny re-telling of The Odyssey. View all posts by roads-rus

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